Bangladesh Climate Migration Happening — Now

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I’m in Dhaka this week, where I have been doing some work between my long hours becoming intimate with the Bangladeshi capital’s epic traffic. The traffic here — an unholy tangle of rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, buses, trucks, cars and motorbikes — puts everything I have seen in Jakarta, India, Bangkok and Los Angeles (please!) to shame. It’s loud, it’s chaotic, and mostly, it’s not going anywhere, literally or figuratively. The good thing is, nobody ever expects you to be on time. The bad thing is, nobody is ever on time.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I can get to my point. Despite that fact that sitting in a traffic jam here may feel like it’s taking years off your life, (or, on the other hand, that you only have minutes to live), the country is one of the lowest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world, along with Ethiopia, Haiti, Congo, Cambodia and others. And, rather unfairly, it is also one of the nations predicted to be at the earliest and greatest risk from drought, rising sea levels, and flooded river basins — all potential negative effects of those gases.

Bangladesh is a low-lying country that is packed tight. It is one of the most densely populated nations on the planet – the only countries with higher population densities are extremely small places like Monaco, Hong Kong and Vatican City. Those countries have populations ranging from a little over 800 (total) to 7 million. Bangladesh has squeezed over 160 million into its 56,000 square miles. That means that as parts of the south Asian nation are already becoming uninhabitable from rising sea levels and increasingly devastating natural disasters, a lot more people are affected, and they have nowhere to go but places where there are already too many people.

(See our video on disaster refugees moving into Dhaka’s slums.)

A study released this week by the Asia Development Bank (ADB), which is heading an international project figuring out how to deal with climate migration, reiterates the problems Bangladesh will be facing to resettle these citizens. The study says that several types of migration can be expected: more rural to urban movement into the country’s already crowded cities, cross-border migration to India, and brain drain to developed nations. The report says the government needs to figure out how it’s going to organize and pay for this wave of changes, and figure it out soon.

Bangladesh, for its part, is pretty confident where the money for climate-proofing the nation should come from: the industrialized nations who they say created this problem in the first place. It is, of course, not the only country that feels this way, but their case does have a little more urgency to it. Though progress was seen at Cancun in getting the global fund together that would do just this, it’s not doing much yet for the tens of thousands of people here who are already on the move.